During the interview we discussed several details of her career and job at the Smithsonian. She went for her undergraduate degree at Haverford and went for her master’s in museum studies at the University of Leicester. She became an intern at the Smithsonian Institution, Museum of Natural History after graduate school. From there she grew in her position with experience. Her most recent position prior to the one she is in now landed her at the National Air and Space Museum. In her current position, she spends most of her time making sure that the museum’s media, items like interactives, audio visuals, and other technology-related material, is working properly and is meeting the standards that the museum, and the visitors, have set in place. While COVID has somewhat adversely affected evaluations from some visitors but has increased the number of accessibility users with the ability to test some different aspects of the project. The NASM, according to Sarah, is keeping with touch interactives for the time being until there is more information to indicate if there is a need to switch to touchless.
Sarah discussed a little bit about where she felt her career has taken her and where it might take her in the future. She seems content in her current position but acknowledges that she does not know what her future career might look like. After discussing her career, we went on to discuss the different aspects of working at the Smithsonian and, in particular, NASM. Her response was not unexpected stating that the museum has days that are mundane that include paperwork and project work and more exciting days that include events like meeting astronauts and engineers. I had to express at the end of the interview that this interview was to me like meeting an astronaut was to her. I had also asked her what it was like creating digital content for the museum with the understanding when I was writing the questions that Media Manager meant something to do with social media. She discussed earlier in the interview how her role was less about social media and more of the digital content found within the museum. I also asked a clarifying question regarding which NASM site she worked for, she responded with say she works for both, Udvar-Hazy and DC, while also adding that there are other locations that are not public sites. She also added that during COVID she has worked at neither as all work has been completed from home but that she is looking forward to heading back.
I followed this question up with a question about what some of the indicators are that a project is working and achieving its goals. She had a good response to this stating that responses from visitors were usually good indicators of the direction the project needs to go. This was followed by questions about some of her greatest successes and worst failures and their impact on her career. Her response to this was a bit inspiring as she said that she does not think of anything as a failure only a way to understand how to move forward. She said it much more gracefully than I did here, but the idea is still the same. She referenced a time when her and a colleague spent several hours printing out QR codes and laminating them to bring to a particular event for people to look up information and stories about various aircraft. The concept failed not because it was a bad concept but because the pilots who flew some of the aircraft were present at the event reducing the impact of the interactive because the more interesting source of information was the living, breathing, human being who had first-hand experience with each respective aircraft.
COVID has had some impacts on her work with some impacting how evaluations are conducted and the other her worksite. COVID has also affected how they are thinking about visitors and spaces within the museum. While it has not changed the content, they are addressing and has not yet changed the manner in which it is addressed, they have started thinking about what could change. A museum conference I had attended for work last summer had indicated that many museums had been moving towards touchless interactives. Sarah and her team are keeping with the touchable interactives until they hear otherwise, and she said she had not heard of any data recently supporting any changes but admitted she has not kept up with any possible changes either.
My second to last question revolved around the most enjoyable experience she has had while working at NASM or the Museum of Natural History and what she was able to learn from it. Her answer to this question was the project she is currently working on, and has been for a few years now, which is a remodel of one half of the DC site. While she stated that it is not always fun, and not necessarily enjoyable, it is certainly satisfying to see all of her work come to life.
My last question was more of a “fun” question that I ask some form of to everyone I interview, this time it was asking what the best and the worst aspects of working for the Smithsonian. She pointed out that the worst thing about working for the Smithsonian, which is with every government job, is the paperwork but the best thing is how interconnected the Smithsonian museums are that the people she worked with at the Museum of Natural History over eight years ago are still occasionally in meetings with her now while she works at the National Air and Space Museum.
I concluded the interview by thanking her for her time and allowing me to have this conversation with her about her work and her career.